Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Experience with the inequities of segregated schooling

Barbee describes her school. At one point, her community was given a Rosenwald school, but when arsonists burned down the structure, the town replaced it with an older, broken-down building. She also reflects on the opportunities African American children had to go on for further education and the pressure they felt to succeed.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BEVERLY JONES:
Well that's good. Let me go back to your education. Now the type of school, what grade did it go through?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Well the one I went to, it didn't have but one. It went as far as the eleventh grade I think.
BEVERLY JONES:
Well did you come in and everybody of the same age was there, the same grade, or did you divide up.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
No they had different sections. Fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh, on like that.
BEVERLY JONES:
And how many teachers?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Oh I forgot how many. There was a whole lot of teachers. Different teachers. In other words, to make it very clear, the teacher that taught the seventh grade, she had too many pupils for one teacher. I do know that.
BEVERLY JONES:
Now how was the school supported. Was it state supported or did the community support it?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, it was state supported. You heard talk of—Rosenwald used to go around and build these schools for black people.
BEVERLY JONES:
Yeah, Rosenwald, okay, a philanthropist.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah that's what he was. But it was really segragated, I'll have you to know why I say that. Because our school burned down, we were living with grandmother and grandfather when it burned down. And instead of them building a new school, they hauled a old school. Of course we left there a little after that, came to Durham to father. Instead of building a new school they hauled a old school—out of fashioned—I don't know what you call it—on that lot. That's where it was when I left and came to Durham. Our school burnt clean—and I'm thinking, I'm trying to remember—yeah, the school we had before this one burnt down, was a nice school. It was a school for black folks and it was nice, but the one they moved over there was terrible. Old upstairs and—it was a terrible school. See we left and came to Durham a little after that. But I don't know where the schools are. I went down there and was trying to ask questions about the first one we had. And I do believe it was deliberately burnt. I've always believed that. None of those nice schools like that for no nigger children, no. No way.
BEVERLY JONES:
You don't have any idea who probably would have done it?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
One of them white folks I guess, because it was nice, very nice. Burnt down to the ground. And I don't believe they even tried to save it.
BEVERLY JONES:
Now your teachers, were they southerners or northerners?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
They were southerners, more than likely they were southerners.
BEVERLY JONES:
And you don't recall whether they got there …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
But I went to school with a boy named Harrison Preston. That was a very influential family there. And his older sister—this woman had ten children. I knew his mother, she was a real missionary lady. She fell dead, died suddenly of a heart attack. Harrison was my classmate and every one of his sisters and brothers above him was teachers. Every last one of them. I can remember that. They didn't teach at that school where we went, Harrison and I. But they taught all over the county. And that woman, his mother—now from what I can understand his father died when they were young—she educated every last one of those older girls and boys. I know some of 'em went to Columbia, Allen University. Some of 'em went to Mars College, different places in the South. And she educated every one of 'em. He didn't have a older sister or brother that wasn't a teacher. Not nary one. I remember that well. So we got to arguing there one day, he and I, you know, would pick at. I said, how come you're so dumb and your sisters are teachers. And it made him hot. So he got so he got better grades than I. When I said that it made something come out of him. I said, why are you so dumb and all of your sisters and brothers are teachers. And I think it really made him angry. From then on, honey, the race was on. His grades just jumped up, overnight. Because see, he was so dumb. First he won't study in school, but after I said that word honey, oh we had a battle. We'd get to spelling, he wouldn't let me outspell him. I said, oh lord I got to study tonight, I said I'm going up against Harrison in the morning. And sure enough we would be in the stretch, he'd wink his eye at me. Let me know he won't get me today. Yet every one of and how they did it, I don't know.